Man convicted of killing 19-year-old Vanessa Pham sentenced to 49 years in prison

Too despondent to speak publicly again, Vanessa Pham’s mother did not face her daughter’s killer Friday. But the statement she wrote for his sentencing described the depth of her loss.

“Society has lost a beautiful, compassionate and ambitious young woman,” Julie Pham wrote of her only child, whom she worked two jobs to support and raised alone. “My dreams of her finishing college, falling in love and giving me grandchildren are gone. I have a tombstone where I go to visit Vanessa, and all I can do is place flowers there and have a one way conversation.”

The letter was read by Fairfax County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Lingan as he argued for Julio Blanco Garcia, 27, to be given 49 years in prison — the maximum possible sentence — for “his greed, his malice and his evil.” Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush agreed, imposing the punishment recommended by a jury in August when Blanco Garcia was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Just before the judge imposed the sentence, Blanco Garcia bowed his head and told Pham’s family and friends that he was “deeply sorry.”

“I hope this sentence will help them in the grieving process,” he added.

Blanco Garcia killed the 19-year-old Falls Church woman as she gave him and his young daughter a ride from a county shopping center on June 27, 2010. Pham did not know Blanco Garcia, also of Falls Church, but she agreed to help when he asked for a ride to the hospital.

The case was one of the highest-profile unsolved murders in the region until last year, when Blanco Garcia was connected to the killing by fingerprint evidence from a shoplifting arrest.

Defense attorneys said Blanco Garcia was not in his right mind the day of the murder. A drug addict for 10 years, he was high on PCP that morning. They also emphasized his contrition, noting what he told detectives in a dramatic videotaped interview with investigators played during the trial: “God is not going to forgive what I did.”

Blanco Garcia had no significant criminal record before this case, they said, and had been polite and cooperative with authorities since his arrest. He “struggled with turning himself in” but did not want to leave his daughter, lawyer Alberto Salvado said. “He spiraled down into further abuse of drugs, including heroin,” Salvado said. Guilt, the lawyer said, led Blanco Garcia to follow the search for Pham’s killer online.

“By no means are we suggesting that Mr. Blanco is a hero. We are only suggesting he has a conscience,” Salvado told the judge. “He has some value as a human being.” In jail, Blanco Garcia has gotten his GED and undergone substance abuse treatment, a probation officer testified.

The defense asked for a sentence within Virginia’s guidelines, of 23 to 38 years.

Blanco Garcia told detectives after his arrest that the PCP-laced cigarettes he smoked on the day of the killing made him ill, so he approached Pham at Fairfax Plaza Shopping Center and asked for a ride to the hospital.

Timeline

Timeline: The slaying of Vanessa Pham

Pham, a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design, agreed. Blanco Garcia was carrying his 1-year-old daughter, and Lingan said Friday the fact that he had the child with him may have “disarmed” the outgoing fashion student.

In his interview with detectives, Blanco Garcia tearfully admitted that he had killed Pham.

“I remember I asked [Pham] to drop me off at the hospital,” Blanco Garcia said in his videotaped confession. “Then she took the wrong way. In my mind, because I was really high, I thought she was going to do something to me. I had a knife in my backpack . . . and then I did what I did.”

Prosecutors said Pham was stabbed 13 times, with her wounds suggesting that she fought for her life.

The car crashed into a ravine off Arlington Boulevard. Blanco Garcia slid out of the sunroof, snatched his daughter and fled.

Blanco Garcia might never have been caught.

But he was arrested in the theft of some champagne in 2012, and authorities matched his fingerprints to prints found inside Pham’s car. He was arrested soon after.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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